Has Howard Lost The Real Thing?


Witness the corporate sleight of hand: Coca-Cola Enterprises is considering building a bottling plant and regional headquarters off U.S. 1 in Howard County. The media gets wind of the idea. A community near the proposed site in Savage gets up in arms. Poof! Coca-Cola disappears. Or has it?

Bruce Jaffe, a consultant representing the owner of the former Freestate Raceway property that the soft drink company was considering, says negotiations have broken off with Coke. Mr. Jaffe says his backers are moving ahead with plans to build a large shopping center at the site instead. An announcement was made in victorious fashion by Shane Pendergrass, a county councilwoman who represents the area and fought Coke's plans.

Those less ebullient about the latest events would include Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who were spearheading the effort to woo Coke for the jobs and tax revenues it would bring.

The chance remains that Coke may settle on another property in the county, or it may decide that the Freestate property owners are bluffing to get a higher price and call the bluff. Whatever happens, the situation between Coke and Howard County has elements of a two-bit carnival that isn't making anyone look good. Negotiations that were too tentative to ever become public are now in serious jeopardy. Also, the county's reputation in the business community is on the line. To make matters worse, the county's economic development director, Dyan Brasington, is stepping down this fall for personal reasons.

If the county executive hopes to put together the kind of class act that large corporate players want to deal with, he has his work cut out.

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